Memorization techniques have a double effect on your brain. Firstly, you learn the information at hand, and secondly, you become better at remembering over time.
Think of it as the “Use it or Lose it” rule.
When you actively engage in ways to make remembering information easier, your brain becomes better at it. This means that nobody is forgetful by nature.
It’s a skill that can be learned, and it’s not a rocket science.
One important thing to understand when picking memorization techniques is how our brain processes and stores memory.
Our brains favour information that is living, active, colorful, vivid, and engaging. The means that we need to make the information that we want to remember interesting for our brains. The key to getting better at any memory technique is finding one that works for you in particular, and setting goals for your training.
Here are some of the most used techniques that can do exactly that, and help you with everything from memorizing a speech to remembering names of new people you meet.
1. The Loci Technique
This method, originally believed to have been developed in Ancient Greece around 2.500 years ago, has many names.
Popularly known as “The Memory Palace”, this technique has been featured in many movies (think the modern adaptation of Sherlock Holmes) and TV shows as a memory exercise of choice for the specially gifted heroes and villains.
But the truth is, the Loci Technique is much more accessible for the average person than most people think.
A study published by The American Physiological Society showed that 92.9% of students participating in the study experienced an improvement in information recall after only three 60-min sessions of training in the Loci Method.
The students came from various fields of study, and better results were claimed to be achieved with longer training.
The premise of this method is simple.
You have to try to associate each item you’re trying to remember with a specific image and a place. You can use the rooms in your house and imagine the items lying around in rooms that feel most natural to you.
Or you can pick a cafe you visit frequently. The place doesn’t matter, as long as it has a personal meaning to you.
This is important in order for your brain to categorize the items you are trying to remember as “interesting”.
This technique is mostly useful for remembering information that does not need to be processed, only recalled.
This means that this technique is most suited for remembering things like lists, birthdays, names and faces.
We’ve all encountered mnemonics as kids. Whether it was to learn the order of the planets or number of days in each month, we were presented with acronyms, music or rhyme to remember and retrieve information.
Another popular mnemonic is memorable sentences that are constructed out of words that start with the same letter as the items you are trying to memorize.
While most mnemonics can be a bit tricky to remember, once you do, it’s going to be preserved in your mind for a long time.
A study done in University of Florida in 2017 in order to assess the effectiveness of mnemonics showed that 71.2% of students found such techniques helpful to remember and later understand the material better.
Musical mnemonics have been proved to be the most helpful at remembering academic content as well as retention of the information over a longer period of time.
3. The Storytelling Technique
Our brains love stories.
So much so that a good character-driven narrative can cause the release of oxytocin, a hormone that increases empathy in people.
Stories encompass all the qualities of information that makes our brain love and remember it: vivid and colorful picture and engaging plotlines about other beings that are alive.
The advertising industry has picked up on this fact a while ago but you as an individual can also benefit from this aspect of your brain in order to remember things you need.
This memory strategy is quite easy.
By creating different images that include items you need to memorize and connecting them in a sequence, you create a story your brain can follow.
The exact narrative has little importance. As with the loci method, it’s beneficial to create a story with elements that interest you.
Apart from that, it can be anything from your cat sitting on top of things you are trying to remember or James Bond picking up items on your grocery list while he is escaping villains.
The chunking technique is all about grouping items together in order to remember them easier.
Most people come across this techniques when they are trying to learn how to memorize phone numbers, social security IDs or bank account numbers but this technique can be used for other types of information as well.
The key aspect that makes this technique work is grouping things based on semantic encoding, meaning things are put in groups according to context or pattern.
That can mean different things to different people.
Some may group their groceries list after the alphabet, others by type of food. The way you can succeed in implementing the chunking techniques is by finding what patterns feel most natural to you and sticking with it.
That should be a fairly easy task for most of us.
After all, finding meaningful patterns in life is a part of the human experience, and our brain is wired for that.
5. The Building Technique
This is a technique that can be built on top of the techniques mentioned above, and it can actually help you expand much further beyond simple recall of facts, names and phone number.
While recalling facts can be helpful, in a professional setting nothing beats deep knowledge and a profound understanding of your field. This, however, cannot be achieved by a mere recalling of things.
A fact or a concept that is understood has much higher chance of sticking in your memory compared to something you just memorized.
Once you introduce a sense of understanding and meaning to the things you are trying to remember, you can both remember things better and apply them in different contexts.
The building technique is mostly useful when you need to remember bigger, more complex concepts or facts.
Its main key element of this method is to relate facts and concepts to each other in order to help you understand them better.
You might find it silly that we put this one on the list but, even though most people know that “repetition is key”, few actually practice it.
Ed Cooke, a memory tournament champion and co-founder of the language app Memrise, launched an online experiment that challenged many experts in the memory field to come up with the best ways to memorize things faster. Repetition came out as number 2 on the list.
With simple concepts and words, you might have to repeat them up to 30 times before they stick for good. Bigger things, such as speeches or job presentations, might require more repetitions.
Unless you are trying to memorize specific facts or words, try to understand the essence of what you are trying to memorize in order to avoid mistakes and hiccups if you forget words or mix up the order of your points.
7. Mind Maps
Mind maps are mostly known for their benefit in increasing creative thinking but they can be used for learning new information or simply organizing it in a more coherent way.
A mind map has elements of the loci technique and the building technique but it’s a much more tangible way of organizing big, complex subject into distinguishable visual categories.
It lends itself best to breaking down longer text or multiple documents.
If you are new to your job, you can, for example, use this technique to better understand the products and services your company is offering, or even develop your own sales or marketing techniques.
There is multiple online software where you can build your mind map but elaborate tools are not a necessity for this method.
All you essentially need is a piece of paper and a pen. Start by putting down the central topic or idea you are trying to remember on paper, preferably expressed by one or two words.
Proceed by connecting it to sub-topics with simple lines as they relate to each other. The further away from the main topic you are, the more in detail about the topic you get.
8. Lifestyle improvements
Improving your lifestyle might not give you an overnight boost in memory but it will certainly have positive long-term effects that can make all of the above-mentioned techniques even more effective.
The lifestyle improvements that might have a positive effect on your memory can largely be split into three areas: sleep, diet, and exercise.
Physical exercise protects and enhances memory and learning skills.
In a study done at Harvard Medical School, participants walked briskly for one hour, twice a week for 6 months. This kind of exercise led to an increase in the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.
The study pointed out that it was important to engage in exercise that was challenging enough to elevate your pulse. This is important for increases blood flood to the brain that is responsible for transporting oxygen to the brain.
Being dormant is also important for better memory.
Another study done by research in Boston and Germany showcased how sleep deprivation affects people’s ability to perform simple tasks like face recognition and name recall.
The group that was kept awake did significantly poorly compared to the group that got an 8-hour sleep before performing the tasks. A lot about sleep is still undiscovered by the modern scientific community but one thing is clear: our brain “resets” when we sleep.
During the night the brain seems to clear out any neuron build up from the activity it undertakes during the day, providing us with that feeling of being fresh and rested in the morning.
Diet is another aspect of your life that can have either positive or negative effect on your memory.
The fact that what we eat has an overall impact on our health is something many of us know but the effects a poor diet has beyond the waistline are still not widespread knowledge.
Cholesterol, which has been named the main reason for heart diseases, can also build up in your brain and restrict blood flow and thereby oxygen supply.
Recently, researchers have also discovered how much the gut is connected to the brain. A troubled stomach can send signals to the brain that disrupts its normal function, and vice versa.
Bonus: Things You Don’t Need to Memorize
Our brains are not computers. They have limited power to both remember all necessary information in our lives and process it optimally.
That’s is why there are some things, like grocery shopping lists, birthdays, or weekly to-do lists that should be automated as much as possible.
One useful technique that you can adopt is time blocking. This entails blocking off time on your calendar for fairly mundane tasks that happen in your life on a regular basis. For a typical office worker, this might be answering emails, reaching out to clients or working on an important project.
Either way, blocking off time on your calendar gives your brain permission to stop thinking about those tasks because the time to complete them has been allocated already.
This way your brain can focus on more important tasks. Don’t forget to track the time you actually spend on tasks and adjust your blocks accordingly.